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GNTC instructors find creative ways to adjust to online learning

April 10th, 2020 – 11:50 AM

Georgia Northwestern Technical College –

The sudden closure of Georgia Northwestern Technical College’s (GNTC) campuses compelled most traditional and industrial instructors to reformat their courses to be taken by students online while the world struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Although this adjustment has been challenging at times, I believe our faculty, staff and students have embraced the undertaking and are doing exceptionally well during these extraordinary times,” Dr. Heidi Popham, president of GNTC said. “I cannot say enough good things about our faculty, especially those that have transitioned their courses from campus-based to 100 percent online. Their dedication and determination in making this quick change reflects their overwhelming commitment to our students and ensuring they have the skills necessary to be successful.”

For Darrell Huggins, program director and instructor of Automation Engineering Technology, the sudden switch from a lab-based curriculum to one completely online was very challenging.

“It has been a challenge for sure,” he said. “I had to create an online course, which usually takes a significant amount of time, in about a week.”

Huggins said he is considering switching to a hybrid type class so his students can have a mix of the online content they are getting now as well as time to practice what they have been studying in a lab setting. The online portion of the course allows students to really get into the text book and engage in discussion posts Huggins said. It also allows them to view video tutorials of class projects.

Huggins, along with other industrial instructors at GNTC, have had to learn online learning tools and techniques while also passing this additional information along to their students.

With modern technology like video streaming and virtual labs, Austin Patrick, Industrial Systems Technology instructor, can give his students the best experience without being in the classroom. Patrick gave students information with announcements and emails so they would stay informed on how the new classes would be conducted.

“In the beginning, my concern was how to teach classes that are focused on hands-on labs,” said Patrick. “When creating the content for classes, I made sure that I kept in mind the end goal of the courses. I want my students to have a great education no matter what.”

As of week one, students have been completing assignments and interacting with Patrick as well as each other in Blackboard Collaborate and discussion posts. Patrick said through planning and collaboration with other instructors at GNTC, they have been successful in the process of bringing their courses completely online.

Construction Management students are able to access daily tutorial videos from Donny Holmes, program director and instructor of Construction Management, as he tackles sheet rock, shingles and roof underlayment. Holmes’ videos run about 15- 20 minutes long and he assigns a quiz for each video which covers the steps and tools used in his tutorials.

“I asked myself how I could continue this class online,” said Holmes. “I had the technology and know-how and decided I could make these videos to give the students the closest thing to a live classroom I could.”

The switch to online learning has helped students of Nina Piatt, clinical coordinator and instructor of Emergency Medical Services and Paramedic Technology, to become more focused on learning from the textbook. Physical training has turned into e-learning and reading as an alternative way to understand EMS concepts. The first time instructor said the change has been a challenge given the hands-on nature of the program.

“We have moved to online testing, slideshow outlines, discussion posts and webinars to keep content fresh and interactive,” Piatt said. “Just when I felt like I had things figured out it all got shaken up.”

According to Jennifer Loudermilk, associate vice president of Academic Affairs, instructors who struggled with bringing their courses fully online have been mentored by other GNTC instructors.

“We have made some great strides and I am so proud of how our faculty have stepped up and tackled this with such a good attitude,” said Dr. Elizabeth Anderson, vice president of Academic Affairs.

One such faculty member, Grace Beam, assistant dean of Business Management, program director and instructor of Logistics and Supply Chain Management, has been a mentor in helping GNTC instructors adapt to using online programs. Beam said telecommuting is possible under normal circumstances and hopes instructors are learning new teaching techniques.

“It’s been pretty cool watching people learn new things,” Beam said. “I love teaching online; it allows students to open up in ways they might not in a normal classroom setting.”

Beam added she has heard from several Logistics and Supply Chain Management students who said they will be taking online classes this summer regardless of what is happening in the world. “For some students their education can’t stop.”

Moving forward, several instructors have already committed to online learning for the 2020 summer semester. GNTC will begin accepting new students for the Culinary Arts program in a new online format for the summer semester. Three introductory courses will be offered online.

Another step GNTC is taking to help students during this time is streamlining the enrollment process. The Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) announced it is suspending the placement exam requirement for admission to any of its 22 technical colleges across the state, including Georgia Northwestern. The suspension of the requirements for official high school or high school equivalency transcripts for admission to TCSG colleges allows applicants who wish to begin this summer or fall semester, the ability to continue their admission process. In the interim, students may submit unofficial transcripts until GNTC resumes normal business operations and will have the ability to submit official documents to the college without affecting their current enrollment. The suspension of the placement exam, ACCUPLACER, still provides the college the ability to use other placement methods already in place to allow an applicant to continue the enrollment process. GNTC will evaluate program readiness in a number of different ways to ensure student success.